The 2011 Tuscaloosa tornado: integration of pediatric disaster services into regional systems of care.
OBJECTIVE: To empirically describe the integration of pediatric disaster services into regional systems of care after the April 27, 2011, tornado in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a community with no pediatric emergency department or pediatric intensive care unit and few pediatric subspecialists.
STUDY DESIGN: Data were obtained in interviews with key informants including professional staff and managers from public health and emergency management agencies, prehospital emergency medical services, fire departments, hospital nurses, physicians, and the trauma program coordinator.
RESULTS: A single hospital in Tuscaloosa served 800 patients on the night of the tornado. More than 100 of these patients were children, including more than 20 with critical injuries. Many children were unaccompanied and unidentified on arrival. Resuscitation and stabilization were performed by nonpediatric prehospital and emergency department staff. More than 20 children were secondarily transported to the nearest children's hospital an hour's drive away under the care of nonpediatric local emergency medical services providers. No preventable adverse events were identified in the resuscitation and secondary transport phases of care. Stockpiled supplies and equipment were adequate to serve the needs of the disaster victims, including the children.
CONCLUSION: Essential aspects of preparation include pediatric-specific clinical skills, supplies and equipment, operational disaster plans, and interagency practice embedded in everyday work. Opportunities for improvement identified include more timely response to warnings, improved practices for identifying unaccompanied children, and enhanced child safety in shelters. Successful responses depended on integration of pediatric services into regional systems of care.
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